COVID-19: National's border policy slammed as 'fraught' by Labour, 'deeply disappointing' by Greens

Labour has slammed National's border policy requiring a negative test from returnees three days prior to their flight to New Zealand as "fraught", while the Greens say it is "deeply disappointing".

National leader Judith Collins unveiled the border policy on Thursday and rejected suggestions that the policy could breach the Bill of Rights by impeding New Zealanders' rights to return home. 

"I'm making it very plan: they need to get a test," she said. "We're dealing with a situation where we are looking at an economic crisis... they can come home but they need to get a test - and that's important... they're going to have to find a way to get a test." 

Collins said it's just as important to look at the rights of New Zealanders who are currently in lockdown or who are in hospital. She said tough times need tough measures and believes the public will be on her side. 

Health Minister and Labour MP Chris Hipkins described the policy on Thursday as "fraught". 

"One of the things that makes that fraught is that we've seen instances of people being infected in transit, so if you take someone leaving London, for example, they may go through several airports and it may take them a process of two or three days to get home, in which case they can become infected during that time," he said.  

Health Minister Chris Hipkins.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub

"That doesn't necessarily increase our level of security as opposed to what we have in place now."

The Green Party's immigration spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said she was "deeply disappointed" but not "unsurprised" that National had resorted to the "politics of division" with its new policy by showing a "complete lack of regard" for Kiwis overseas. 

"This policy proves once again that National do not care about the wellbeing of New Zealanders overseas, and are only out to score political points," Ghahraman said on Thursday. 

"Refusing entry to New Zealanders who may be sick or unable to even access COVID testing is an absolute breach of their rights, and ignores the realities being faced by Kiwis outside of New Zealand."

Ghahraman accused National of wanting to leave New Zealanders stranded overseas, where the Government cannot guarantee they will have access to adequate healthcare or support.

"They also make the incorrect assumption that tests are easily accessible overseas. We know that in many places, including the United States and even parts of Australia, testing is hard to access or very expensive," she said. 

"It could leave New Zealanders stranded overseas indefinitely."

Green Party immigration spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman.
Green Party immigration spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman. Photo credit: Newshub

Ghahraman said National is "playing on peoples' fears to win votes, and is willing to throw New Zealanders overseas under the bus" to do so.

National also proposed ramping up the speed of tests by exploring a 'test on demand' system, with the ambition of waiting no longer than 60 minutes for a COVID-19 test, and the virus response would be overseen by a new NZ Border Protection Agency. 

Hipkins said now is not the time for a restructure. 

"I'm not sure, at this point, that another bureaucracy is necessarily going to help here. What's important is that we get the right people in the right place focused on doing the job," he said. 

"A big restructuring exercise whilst they're in the middle of managing a very, very complex task isn't necessarily going to get the best out of those people."

Hipkins also said the technology is not there yet to expect testing to be sped up. 

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub

"Scientists are working around the world to get better, reliable and faster tests and New Zealand will of course adopt those when they're reliable and when they're readily available," he said. 

"At the moment, the testing that we have - we can do very fast processing for a limited number of tests where we need to and where it's genuinely urgent but we couldn't guarantee that for all tests."

National's health spokesperson Shane Reti said people shouldn't have to wait an hour to get a COVID-19 test. 

"It's an hour to be tested so you're not waiting in a car for four or five hours. We're saying we think it's reasonable to have that test within an hour. It takes a lot longer to actually process the test."

National's ally ACT is meanwhile proposing a specialist multi-disciplinary epidemic response unit similar to Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Centre, which would be tasked with improving contact tracing to the standard that lockdowns are no longer required. 

ACT is also keen on the 'CovidCard' Bluetooth technology used for contact tracing, while National plans to explore more, and which the Government is rolling out across managed isolation and quarantine facilities. 

ACT leader David Seymour said quarantine escapees should be sent to prison.